08/23/2006 11:00PM

Aragorn stands out off last race

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Aragorn ran a nearly perfect race in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar on July 23. He stalked the pace, circled the front-runners, and won by four lengths in course-record time of 1:44.79 for 1 1/8 miles on turf.

With that performance as his most recent outing, Aragorn will be heavily favored in Saturday's $400,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Mile on turf. What is even more frightening for the connections of his seven rivals is that Aragorn is thriving as the summer comes to a close, trainer Neil Drysdale said.

"He continues to improve," Drysdale said this week. "He's quite flexible. It appears he can adapt to most situations."

Aragorn has emerged as perhaps the nation's top turf miler this year. None of his rivals in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile have credentials like his this year. Owned by Ballygallon Stud, the Irish-bred Aragorn has won his last two starts, including the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile on turf at Hollywood Park on May 29.

Saturday's race puts Aragorn closer to the Breeders' Cup Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4. Following the Grade 2 Del Mar BC Mile, Drysdale envisions starting Aragorn in a prep race in October and then shipping to Kentucky.

If Drysdale has a concern, it is the timing of Saturday's race. The five weeks between the Eddie Read and the Del Mar is a quick turnaround for a 4-year-old who has been given ample time between races.

"I hope we've given him enough time," Drysdale said. "That's why we didn't go" to the Arlington Million on Aug. 12.

Drysdale has no concern about the distance because Aragorn is proven at a mile and 1 1/8 miles.

"I don't think it matters," he said.

All of the eight entrants in the Del Mar Mile ran in stakes in their last start. The race marks the first start of 2006 for Laura's Lucky Boy, who was second by a nose in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap at 1 3/8 miles on turf here last summer. Laura's Lucky Boy finished 11th in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont Park last October.

Three of the runners that finished behind Aragorn in the Eddie Read return in the Del Mar Mile - Sweet Return, who was second; Quasimodo, who was fourth; and Hendrix, who finished sixth.

Sweet Return is the most accomplished of those three. Trained by Ron McAnally, Sweet Return has won six stakes in his 32-race career, most notably the Grade 2 Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita in 2004 and two Grade 1 stakes last year - the Charles Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood Park and the Eddie Read.

Sweet Return is winless in six starts this year. McAnally said he was surprised that Aragorn has stayed in California for the Del Mar Mile.

"I don't know why he didn't go in the Arlington Million," McAnally said. "We were hoping he would."

McAnally is realistic about Sweet Return's chances against Aragorn. McAnally can take some comfort in race tactics - Sweet Return is likely to be in front of Aragorn midway through the race. He is hoping for a slow pace to help Sweet Return.

"If they run three-quarters in 1:15, we might have a shot at it," McAnally said.